Likely related to our ancestors, 'Plexus ricei' was much like a tapeworm or modern flatworm, say UC Riverside researchers
Scientists at the University of California, Riverside have discovered a fossil of a newly discovered organism from the "Ediacara Biota" — a group of organisms that occurred in the Ediacaran period of geologic time.
Named Plexus ricei and resembling a curving tube, the organism resided on the Ediacaran seafloor. Plexus ricei individuals ranged in size from 5 to 80 centimeters long and 5 to 20 millimeters wide. Along with the rest of the Ediacara Biota, it evolved around 575 million years ago and disappeared from the fossil record around 540 million years ago, just around the time the Cambrian Explosion of evolutionary history was getting under way.
"Plexus was unlike any other fossil that we know from the Precambrian," said Mary L. Droser, a professor of paleontology, whose lab led the research. "It was bilaterally symmetrical at a time when bilaterians—all animals other than corals and sponges—were just appearing on this planet. It appears to have been very long and flat, much like a tapeworm or modern flatworm."
Study results appeared online last month in the Journal of Paleontology.
"Ediacaran fossils are extremely perplexing: they don't look like any animal that is alive today, and their interrelationships are very poorly understood," said Lucas V. Joel, a former graduate student at UC Riverside and the first author of the research paper. Joel worked in Droser's lab until June 2013.
He explained that during the Ediacaran there was no life on land. All life that we know about for the period was still in the oceans.
"Further, there was a complete lack of any bioturbation in the oceans at that time, meaning there were few marine organisms churning up marine sediments while looking for food," he said. "Then, starting in the Cambrian period, organisms began churning up and mixing the sediment."
According to the researchers, the lack of bioturbators during the Ediacaran allowed thick films of (probably) photosynthetic algal mats to accumulate on ocean floors—a very rare environment in the oceans today. Such an environment paved the way for many mat-related lifestyles to evolve, which become virtually absent in the post-Ediacaran world.
"The lack of bioturbation also created a very unique fossil preservational regime," Joel said. "When an organism died and was buried, it formed a mold of its body in the overlying sediment. As the organism decayed, sediment from beneath moved in to form a cast of the mold the organism had made in the sediment above. What this means is that the fossils we see in the field are not the exact fossils of the original organism, but instead molds and casts of its body."
Paleontologists have reported that much of the Ediacara Biota was comprised of tubular organisms. The question that Droser and Joel addressed was: Is Plexus ricei a tubular organism or is it an organism that wormed its way through the sand, leaving a trail behind it?
"In the Ediacaran we really need to know the difference between the fossils of actual tubular organisms and trace fossils because if the fossil we are looking at is a trace fossil, then that has huge implications for the earliest origins of bilaterian animals—organisms with bilateral symmetry up and down their midlines and that can move independently of environment forces," Joel said. "Being able to tell the difference between a tubular organism and a trace fossil has implications for the earliest origins of bilaterian organism, which are the only kinds of creatures that could have constructed a tubular trace fossil. Plexus is not a trace fossil. What our research shows is that the structure we see looks very much like a trace fossil, but is in fact a new Ediacaran tubular organism, Plexus ricei."
Plexus ricei was so named for plexus, meaning braided in Latin, a reference to the organism's morphology, and ricei for Rice, the last name of the South Australian Museum's Dennis Rice, one of the field assistants who helped excavate numerous specimens of the fossil.
"At this time, we don't know for sure that Plexus ricei was a bilateral but it is likely that it was related to our ancestors," Droser said.
She and Joel were joined in the research by James G. Gehling at the South Australian Museum. Joel is now a Ph.D. graduate student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
The research was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA to Droser; a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to Joel; and a grant from the Australian Research Council to Gehling.
The University of California, Riverside is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion. A broadcast studio with fiber cable to the AT&T Hollywood hub is available for live or taped interviews. UCR also has ISDN for radio interviews. To learn more, call (951) UCR-NEWS.
Iqbal Pittalwala | Eurek Alert!
Northern oceans pumped CO2 into the atmosphere
27.03.2017 | CAGE - Center for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Climate and Environment
Weather extremes: Humans likely influence giant airstreams
27.03.2017 | Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
27.03.2017 | Earth Sciences
27.03.2017 | Life Sciences
27.03.2017 | Life Sciences